News Feature | May 6, 2015

Global Water Quality On Brink Of Disaster

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Global water quality is expected to take a plunge in the coming years, according to a new white paper by Veolia and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

"This assessment reveals that levels of BOD, N, and P discharged into water bodies around the world are already alarmingly high, particularly in Asia. This situation is projected to worsen substantially over the next several decades as loadings of these substances will continue to increase, posing greater risks to aquatic environments and human health, especially in developing countries," the white paper said.

Even under a best-case scenario, "water quality is still projected to deteriorate dramatically," the paper said.

The paper called on decision makers to invest in water infrastructure and technology and to streamline water management policies. For ratepayers, cities, and the industrial sector, the paper said one solution is "more aggressive investment in wastewater treatment, not just for developed economies but also for developing countries."

Among other recommendations, the paper suggested "continued development of new models of water management such as watershed scale approaches, alternative utility governance that includes improvement of upstream practices, as well as nutrient trading to encourage upstream best practices and reduce non-point source runoff of contaminants."

Ed Pinero, senior vice president for sustainability at Veolia North America, put the paper in context.

"The global water crisis is not science fiction," he said, per a release. "The evidence of drought in the United States and in many parts of the world – lack of rain or snowfall, drying rivers and lakes, water shortages, and water restrictions – is real enough. Now we're seeing how the impacts of high levels of organic pollutants can affect our health and society."

The United Nations agrees that water quality is dropping, pointing to nutrients as a major challenge.

"Globally, the most prevalent water quality problem is eutrophication, a result of high-nutrient loads (mainly phosphorus and nitrogen), which substantially impairs beneficial uses of water. Major nutrient sources include agricultural runoff, domestic sewage (also a source of microbial pollution), industrial effluents and atmospheric inputs from fossil fuel burning and bush fires," the organization's Economic Department says.